Formed in 2009, “it seems like it’s been longer, but if feels like it’s only been two weeks, too,” said Harris amiably. He said the band’s sound can be hard to pigeonhole.
“It’s that late 1960s, early ’70s thing that was truly integrated before soul was black and rock was white,” he said. His own style as a singer is easier for him to describe.
“It’s a soul shout and a booty shake,” Harris said. “In the Styletones, I’m channeling the shaman side of James Brown. It’s like Detroit voodoo with a bit of Wilson Pickett, Bobby Byrd and Robert Plant, actually. There’s an explosiveness that’s required that we all hear in the MC5 and a melodiousness we hear in Al Green or Marvin Gaye.”
Though most local music fans consider Harris to have emerged fully formed as The Styletones frontman, he’s had a long road getting to this point, in fact.
“I've been playing for 22 years and this band is the first thing I’ve done where I wasn’t also the guitar player,” he said.
A graduate of Hoover High School, Harris’s first bar gig was at the Spirit Club in 1989.
“It was a show promoted by Calvin Taylor Hit Attraction Productions, opening for Gregory Pages’ old band, Baba Yaga,” he said. “I was 17 with negro cure hair. I don’t remember how it went actually, but I didn’t quit.”
Harris spent the early 1990s in the group Conglomerate, followed by a stint as an acoustic singer-songwriter. He also spent time with Chula Vista hardcore band House of Suffering, among many other musical projects. Though he said he’s had good experiences with both, he prefers being the vocalist with his band.
“Singing is the apex of musicianship ’cause your body is the instrument,” he said, “except that there is no string to fret or valve or key to press. Pitch is felt intuitively. You hear it and adjust your wind and muscles — it’s the mind body and spirit instrument. You project a vibration, a frequency from your body and vibes control consciousness.”
Harris said San Diego is not a soul town, but that’s okay.
The band specializes in original music, but has been known to throw in some classic grooves. Just don’t expect Top 40 or Motown tracks.
“We do obscure covers by Baby Huey and Black Merder and the like, songs that are 40 years old and are so good, but nobody’s ever heard it,” Harris said.
The Styletones released their critically acclaimed, self-titled album early in 2012, with plans for a followup already under way.
“We all write songs,” Harris said. “We take turns in order, working on so-and-so’s song together. We have nine songs written for the next album. We’re playing a few out already. It took a long time to do the first album. Knock on wood, this seems to be going faster.”
Upcoming plans also include appearing on episodes of a new KPBS program, “Live from the Belly Up,” and NBC-TV’s “Sound Diego.”
The group also has a song in an upcoming episode of the Showtime Channel’s “Weeds.”
Harris is a veteran of the San Diego club scene and said he considers Winston’s Beach Club’s shows to be a homecoming of sorts.
“I've been playing at Winston’s since 1990,” he said. “I opened for [funk band] Daddy Long Legs there and that changed my life. I cherish Winston’s as home base.”
He said he considers the Ocean Beach neighborhood to be special.
“I desperately wanna live in OB, but I’m not really beachy,” Harris said. “I don’t have any shorts or sandals. The vibe is nice though. I go there and walk, and think that area is calming. The fact that so many big shows happen on Newport Avenue is very special. Obecians are lucky.”
Harris said he is happy to be making inroads with The Styletones — making music is what thrills him, while fame isn’t a concern.
“As far as being known, I just hope I’m known to make people happy,” he said.
• The Styletones perform at 9 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 24 at Winston’s Beach Club, 1921 Bacon St. Cover TBD. 21 and up. www.winstonsob.com